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issue eight



INTERCUT ISSUE EIGHT


INTERCUT


Editor-in-chief: Sophia Dienstag

Art Director: Megan Perkins

Assignment Editor: Hannah Carroll

Editors:

Hannah Carroll Anne Kiely Sarah Lucente Phoebe Vlahoplus David Whitehouse

Illustrators: Jessica Luu Molly Scotti


The Horror of Ari Aster ANDRES ANGELES-PAREDES A Cinematic, Depictive Portrayal of the Real: An Analysis of Nanni Moretti’s Fictional Autobiography in Dear Diary CONCETTA FROIO It’s Been Over a Decade Since Slumdog Millionaire Swept The Oscars. What’s Changed? SARAH LUCENTE Deconstructing Tarkovsky Through Dorsky: Cinema, Vision, and Light in Andrei Rublev ANNA DZHITENOV The (Un)predictability of The Undoing PHOEBE VLAHOPLUS “The Next Right Thing:” Depictions of Mental Illness in Frozen II ELIZABETH IRVIN It’s All Fun and Games, Until...: The Struggle for Power in Big Brother and Succession NIKA LITT

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CONTENTS


F R O M Dear Reader,

T H E

Well, here we are: another month into the COVID-19 pandemic, and another online-

only issue of Intercut sent out into the world. As I write this, the first vaccines are being administered to health care workers around the country and more are on the way. It seems the end of this ordeal is now, at last, in sight. But just as this virus wreaks havoc on the body in ways that last well beyond the wearing-off of symptoms, so too, I’m sure, will the greater cultural effects of this time be felt far past the exhausting, stressful year that has been 2020. As much as we want things to go back to the way they were, we won’t be able to simply forget the reality of the past nine months. Life has changed -- in some ways that are temporary, and in others that likely are not. The film and television industry has had to evolve and adapt to the many changes this year has brought along with the rest of us. Shows have been canceled, film shoots shut down or postponed, and then there’s the recent news that Warner Bros. intends to release their entire 2021 slate of films simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. Although these changes will probably leave a lasting impact the industry, most of them don’t necessarily affect the way the average viewer consumes media. One change, however, most certainly has, at least for me: movie theaters, which in times of stress, boredom, and loneliness have been a source of great comfort to me, have closed their doors, in some cases permanently. I know, I know: streaming is the future! Movie tickets are expensive, and many theaters aren’t even that nice. I hear you, and it’s all true. But if there was one thing in non-pandemic times that could reliably get me out of the house and interacting with other people, even strangers, it was going to see a movie. When the pandemic started, to be honest, I didn’t mind staying home all the time. I’m an introvert, and I often choose to spend time alone


E

E D I T O R anyway -- I was doing okay. But as the months stretched on, it began to dawn on me that although sitting in a dark theater may not seem like social interaction, in a way, it is. Maybe not in as direct a form as, say, a hug or a holiday party, but every time you see a movie, you share an emotional experience, a human connection, with friends, family, and whoever else happens to be there. I’ve realized, it’s not movies I miss -- those we still have -- and it’s not the enormous screens (though I miss those too), it’s the people. I don’t know what long-term effects this year will have on the industry. Maybe the pandemic will alter movie-viewing habits in a permanent way, or perhaps this year will simply be an anomaly. But what I do know is that once we’re vaccinated, safe, and finally on the other end of this thing, whether with friends, family, or even just by myself, I’m going to the movies. As tough as this year has been, and as much as we’ve missed out on, if there’s one thing we’ve gained -- those of us who aren’t doctors, nurses, or parents working from home while homeschooling their kids -- it’s time. Time to read, to watch, to listen, and in the case of our Issue 8 contributors, to write. And write they have! Over the past (and hopefully last) few months of the pandemic, some of these writers have revisited old films and shows, while others have discovered new ones. From discussions of Slumdog Millionaire, to Frozen 2, to Big Brother, they’ve written about what film and TV means to them. And if you’ll only turn the page, or click the arrow on your screen, you might find that their writing means something to you too.

All my best,

Sophia Dienstag editor-in-chief


THE HORROR OF Andres Angeles-Paredes

As the film’s credits

begin to roll, I think back on the final images and

sounds of Midsommar: a smiling young woman,

an outfit made of flowers, and a haunting score that builds to a magnificent

crescendo. I enjoyed it, but I was also unsettled in a

way I hadn’t experienced

before. The gut-wrenching content and situations

it presented were unlike other horror films I’d

watched during this year’s quarantine. I looked up the director Ari Aster and learned that he’s

directed only one other

feature film, Hereditary, and a few weeks later I checked it out. Again, I was left with the same unsettled sensation.

With only two movies,

Aster has established a

unique style that creates disturbing experiences for his audience. How

8

could he have achieved

unique mannerisms and

films vary significantly in

characters as we spend

this? While these two

both form and content, there are notable

similarities between

them. Aster develops his

films around distinct and flawed characters and

the deterioration of their

relationships with others. He creates an underlying

feeling of discomfort that becomes juxtaposed with grotesque and intense scenes of horror and realistic emotion.

We become

acquainted with the

oddities of the central

time in the worlds of the two films. In Hereditary,

we get a close look at the Graham family. Annie,

the mother, builds model houses for a living and

feels conflicted about the loss of her own mother.

She appears to hold some grudges against her, and it seems like they had a

troubled relationship. When Annie goes through some

storage boxes, we get the

sense that

she doesn’t

entirely


ARI ASTER understand her family

or its history. There may be some secrets that

have been kept from

her. Meanwhile, we also see the eccentricities of her daughter, Charlie.

She sleeps in the family treehouse against her

parents’ wishes and builds crafts from sticks and

trinkets that she finds. In

one scene, she cuts off the head of a dead bird to use

for one of said crafts. Aster gives us these unusual and disturbing traits so that

we never exactly relate to the main characters. We recognize who they are

and their personalities, but there are certain actions and sides to them that don’t sit well with us.

Midsommar shares

this setup. Instead of a

family, the film looks at a group of friends. We

follow them before their trip to Sweden, and we

note how they all interact

with Dani, the protagonist. Josh is indifferent towards

her, and Mark expresses

his dislike for her behind

her back. Pelle stands out since he is particularly

kind and polite to her. His demeanor is a welcome

departure from the apathy of the others, even though it may seem that he’s too kind sometimes. We also

see how Christian, Dani’s boyfriend, struggles to

show her affection and acts manipulative and

detached. He behaves this way towards his friends

too later on in the film; he becomes difficult to work

with and even steals Josh’s thesis idea for himself.

Aside from Dani, they are pretty difficult characters to relate to as well, but we’re stuck with them

whether we like it or not. This disconnect between the characters and the audience establishes a

discomforting tone. Even though we’re following

them throughout the film, we don’t feel entirely comfortable in their

space. We’re placed in a

helpless position to watch the events unfold, only

sympathizing with Dani.

The central

characters of both films gradually fall apart as the plots progress. In

Hereditary, the audience bears witness to the

dysfunctional nature of

the Graham family. Annie

and her son, Peter, engage in tense conversations,

which we learn is due to a traumatic incident in

their past. They have an

established mistrust that has already damaged

their relationship. Peter doesn’t have a strong

relationship with Charlie either. We don’t notice many interactions of

bonding or love between

them. Overall, they don’t act like a stable family.

After Charlie’s death, the

family becomes even more strained. In one scene,

a quiet dinner gradually turns into an explosive argument. Annie and

Peter counter each other with accusatory remarks until Annie snaps and

9


yells at her son. Having

is the main focus of the

point to the couple falling

these characters, we

worries about her family,

about Dani’s birthday, and

spent so much time with experience the tension

and resentment building between them. Their

faltering relationships

become even more harmed, furthering the unsettling tone of the film. Instead

Christian is unsure of how to console her. His friends tell him to dump her, but

it’s evident he doesn’t know what to do. Later on, Dani discovers that Christian

is going to Sweden with

apart. Christian forgets

their conversations and

expressions reveal their

developing hatred towards each other. There’s a sense of alienation between

the two that parallels the mistrust in Hereditary.

of coming together, which

his friends, which she

It feels as though no

they grow further apart.

tries to understand why

even her boyfriend. The

would satisfy our desires,

Aster does this to heighten the disconnect between us and the movie, keeping us on edge for what happens next.

In Midsommar, Dani

and Christian’s relationship

10

deterioration. When Dani

didn’t know about. She Christian didn’t tell

her this, but he doesn’t

accept responsibility. The

audience notices this and sees how unfairly she’s

being treated. As the film progresses, more signs

one is there for her, not one character we have

sympathy for isn’t getting the help or comfort she needs. We feel Dani’s

sentiments of loneliness

and separation, extending

the discomfort driving the


film. Aster detaches the

window for air. Everything

a haunting and grotesque

other characters and keeps

we can barely process

look at. We’re left disturbed

viewer even more from the us in helpless anticipation.

The tension that

persists throughout these films sets up sudden

and gruesome scenes of

horror. In Hereditary, first time viewers don’t expect

occurs so frantically that the few seconds where

Peter swerves away from a deer corpse and where Charlie sees a telephone

pole coming closer at an appalling speed towards

her head. When we hear

image that we can hardly at this sudden shift in horror.

Midsommar’s

approach is slow and

drawn out rather than

frantic, but it leaves us with a similar feeling.

Charlie’s horrific death. We

the sound of a sudden and

After getting adjusted to

at watching Charlie go

the dread that Peter feels

commune that Dani visits

go from feeling alarmed

into anaphylactic shock to experiencing the intensity

of the scene as Peter rushes her to a hospital in his

car. We’re on the edge of

our seats as we watch her stick her head out the car

forceful impact, we feel as he stops the car and

hesitates looking in the

rear view mirror. When her body is discovered

the next morning, we get a shot of her decapitated

head covered in ants. It’s

the life of the Swedish with Christian and his

friends, we learn of an

upcoming ritual known as

an ättestupa. The majority of the characters don’t

know what it is or what to expect, and thus we are

11


kept in anticipation too.

such intense imagery. It

who has just been crowned

film draws out the event,

that lingers throughout

Christian having sex

On the day it occurs, the

forcing us to take in every detail and moment. An

elderly man and woman

are introduced and made the focus of the day. The

whole community shares a meal with them and then they depart to a cliffside.

The audience watches them cut their hands willingly

and smear the blood over some runes. We begin

to infer what the event

entails, but we have to wait in suspense until we see

the woman drop from the

cliffside and hit the ground in horrifying and explicit detail. The man does the

same despite the pleas and cries from the students.

He is only incapacitated from the fall, yelling in pain from his horribly

broken legs. We have to watch some commune

members slowly approach

and smash his face in with a mallet. This shocking

incident is a drastic shift for the characters and for the audience who

may not have expected

12

creates a sickly unease

the rest of the movie as

we’re uncertain of what’s to come. These scenes

amplify the discomfort

and helplessness we feel. They present unusually

terrifying situations, and

May Queen, discovers

with Maja. Having lost

everything, she crouches over and sobs profusely. She’s accompanied by

other women, and they join in her wailing and

since they’re carried out so suddenly and effectively, we believe in their

plausibility. These moments also feature extreme body horror that hasn’t been

seen throughout the films

thus far. Aster makes sure the viewer has adjusted to the storyline and

subsequently catches us

off guard with intense and frightening incidents.

As the horror escalates,

we witness the characters’

weeping, allowing her

moments of devastation.

pent up feelings. These

true emotions come out in When Annie discovers

her daughter’s beheaded

body, we hear her screams of shock and extreme

anguish. We see her on

all fours in her bedroom, yelling that she wants to die. This scene parallels

one in Midsommar. Dani,

to finally release all her scenes of distress and raw emotion are uncommon

for the horror genre. They exemplify the jarring

realism of the films while also furthering their

unsettling tones, resonating with us deeply.

These intense scenes


and moments of passionate

to the family treehouse,

unnerving smile.

lead to grotesque and

and adorned by a cult. The

of both films culminate

emotions ultimately

unsettling endings. When a supernatural being

possesses Peter at school, it slams his face into his desk several times. He’s taken

home, and Annie attempts

which has been taken over eerie music swells, and we stay focused on his face in a close up shot as a cult

member puts a crown on his head.

Midsommar’s ending

is just as bizarre. After

a drugged Christian has

sex with Maja, he realizes what he’s done and tries to escape. He enters a

barn where he sees the

body of one of his friends mangled and mutilated in a sickening fashion.

Following this scene, we

see the disfigured bodies of all the students being

carried to a wooden temple in another drawn out to get rid of the being,

but her husband is burned alive instead. A possessed

Annie then chases Peter to

the attic, hovers above him, and slices her own head

off. Peter then sees some

nude figures watching him in the corner and jumps

out the window in fright. An entity takes control

of his body, and he goes

sequence. Chosen by a

dejected Dani, a paralyzed Christian is placed in the skin of a bear and set in the temple as well. The

whole commune gathers

and watches as the temple is lit on fire and burns the

victims inside. Dani breaks down at this sight, but as we linger on a close up of her face, we see her

slowly form a satisfied yet

The discomforting tones in these intense endings

and stay with us once the

credits roll. In Hereditary, we discover the Graham family’s secret, but each family member dies a

horrible death. Dani is

finally happy and loved in Midsommar, but she

has to exchange her only friends for a murderous

cult. Aster plays with our emotions in these final

scenes. He ends his films

in horrible and disturbing ways while also including a feeling of catharsis. We

experience some sense of

inner release at watching these despairing and

beaten down characters finally become free of

torment. Such intricacy and moral ambiguity is

distinct for horror films

and is representative of

what makes Aster’s style so frightening. Through

these stylistic choices, he has made a notable and unsettling mark on the horror genre.

13


A CINEMATIC, DEPICTIVE PORTRAYAL OF THE REAL: AN ANALYSIS OF NANNI MORETTI’S FICTIONAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN

DEAR DIARY

written by Concetta Froio illustrated by Molly Scotti In Dear Diary

of skin cancer. However,

Nanni Moretti embraces

depiction of factual events,

(1993), director and writer a diaristic approach to

storytelling, and by doing so modifies the canonical style that characterized

his previous films, thereby

challenging and renovating his authorial voice. In

Dear Diary, the Italian

filmmaker chronicles an

event that draws from his private life: the discovery

though the film includes a

it should not be considered a documentary, because its intentional stylistic and narrative choices

emphasize the film’s status as fiction storytelling.

Prior to the

analysis of Dear Diary, it is crucial to investigate

some key formal choices

that Moretti adopts in his

previous six feature films. Moretti’s body of work is an “unpredictable mix of

the personal, political and the filmic.”1 However, a

“constant [is] the comically idiosyncratic, neurotic, by now one can say

‘Morettian’ egocentrism of the protagonist.”2 Though

Moretti’s previous features depict dissimilar plots and settings, this recurring

onscreen character that Moretti himself plays constructs a sense of

familiarity for frequent viewers. This common

thread persists until The Son’s Room (2001), the

last feature where Moretti plays a pivotal role. In Dear Diary and Aprile,

Moretti decides to abandon his previous onscreen

character, Michele Apicella, and instead chooses to

play the character “Nanni Moretti,” who is molded

after the director himself.

Though all the

characters Moretti plays in his past features are

named “Michele Apicella,”

1. Small, Pauline. “The Cinema of Nanni Moretti: Dreams and Diaries.” Film Criticism 30, no. 2 (05, 2006): 72-75,84. 2. Bonsaver, Guido. “The egocentric Cassandra of the left: Representations of politics in the films of Nanni Moretti.” The Italianist 211, no.1 (2001): 158183

14


each Michele is a well-

in individuality. By

cinematic lens. The formal

exists independently of

character, Moretti declares

character who is molded

defined character that the others. However,

each Michele is linked

by a similar neurotic and

eccentric personality, and they all represent the

“emblem and standardbearer of the post-68 generation.”3 On his

films prior to Dear Diary,

Moretti states (translated from original Italian), “I found myself depicting and making fun of a

group of people that was

similar to me from a social,

abandoning his recurring he no longer intends to

narrate and personify the struggles and anxieties

that Michele embodied,

rather, he intends to focus on an introspective style of cinema that is deeply

rooted in his own reality and truth.

Dear Diary subverts

the aforementioned pattern of social representation, as Moretti adopts an

introspective and private

choice of interpreting a

and named after himself

obfuscates the boundaries between the tangible and the fictional worlds he is representing onscreen.

However, the stylistic and narrative choices utilized by Moretti are what

prime the viewer into an

understanding of the film as a work of fiction. The title of Dear Diary is the

first indication to viewers that the film is aimed

generational, and political standpoint.”4 In those

films, acting in the role of “Michele” allows Moretti to satirize, examine and

scrutinize his generation while embodying the characteristics he is

critiquing. Embracing a

new onscreen character

marks the transition from

representing an individual who is “burdened with rappresentatività”, a

“generational signifier”,5 to one that is steeped

3. Marcus, Millicent. “”Caro Diario” and the Cinematic Body of Nanni Moretti.” Italica 73, no. 2 (Summer, 1996): 233. 4. Ibid. 5. Ibid.

15


toward introspection. The

Moreover, the sinuous

the film is a representation

is a close up shot of a diary

of Moretti riding his Vespa

and feelings; however,

opening frame of the film

entry, read aloud through

voiceover by Moretti, that states, “Dear diary, there is one thing that I enjoy

more than anything else!” Through the title and

opening scene, Moretti establishes an intimate tone, and highlights

the direct access to the

character’s interiority as

well as the private nature

of the film. We do not see Moretti writing what it is that “he loves more than anything else,” rather,

what follows is a montage of handheld, long shots of Moretti riding his Vespa

along the deserted streets of Rome. By illustrating the diary entry in the

opening, Moretti seemingly invites the audience into an intimate portrayal of his inner monologue. By visually depicting

the rest of the sentence

that Moretti was writing in his physical diary, he suggests that the film

is a visualization of his

introspective thoughts.

16

movement of the character along the empty streets

visually mimics the gesture of writing on paper. The

deliberate formal choices adopted in the initial frames of Dear Diary

suggest to the viewer that

of the filmmakers thoughts the stylistic choices also

function to reiterate the fabricated nature of the film, and confute any

suspicion that the film

might be a documentary.

Dear Diary is


divided into three distinct

retain many of Moretti’s

In the first chapter, the

Isole and Medici, and

stylistic tropes, such as

repeatedly interrupts his

vignettes, namely In Vespa, the common thread that loosely connects these

episodes is the presence of

Moretti’s character and the persistence of his diaristic and intimate narration. The first two episodes

signature narrative and his recurring wooden

acting style and dry sense of humor. A “morettian” characteristic that is

prevalent in both In Vespa and Isole is the use of

absurd comedic moments.

character of Moretti

aimless wandering in the

deserted neighborhoods of Rome by pulling over and

starting conversations with strangers. One instance of this repeated motif occurs when he travels to the

neighborhood of Spinaceto. The voiceover states that

people always talk poorly of the neighborhood of

Spinaceto and he decides to visit the location

himself. As he rides his

Vespa in the streets of this new area, he encounters a man sitting on a ledge and slows down to say,

“not so bad, this Spinaceto, I thought it’d be way

worse.” As the strangers start responding, “you

are right, I was thinking the same…” Moretti

interrupts him and says, “ciao!” Interjecting the

man resembles a technique that Moretti employs in

all of his previous films: cutting a scene off even

though the character has not yet finished his or

her sentence. Previously,

17


he is holding are the

erroneous doctors’ notes that he collected over

the course of his medical odyssey. So far, this final installment displays an

introduction analogous to the previous two

chapters. The voiceover continues, and Moretti states, “nothing from this editing style “added

explores the filmmaker’s

behavior of the characters

illness that is at the root of

force to both the farcical

and to the jerky, intolerant personality of the

protagonist.”6 In Dear

Diary, this stylistic trait

plucked from his canonical repertoire retains its

previous function, while

simultaneously acquiring a new layer of meaning. Analogously to his past films, interrupting the

man’s sentence underlines the awkward, erratic

personality of the main

character, however, it also highlights the possibly fictitious nature of the conversation.

The final chapter of

Dear Diary, titled Medici,

this chapter is invented,”

own quest in search for the his malaise. This vignette

interweaves the narration of autobiographical

elements taken from Moretti’s private life

with deliberate and self-

conscious formal choices, such as flashbacks and

the breaking of the fourth wall. The opening shot of this final chapter frames

Moretti in an empty café, as he rummages through a pile of papers. The

voiceover starts off this

chapter by saying “dear

diary,” analogously to the past vignettes. Moretti’s

voiceover continues and reveals that the papers

and we cut to footage of

the bed-ridden director’s last chemotherapy

session. The amateurish cinematography as well as the low quality of the footage are both

features that indicate the documentary nature of

the clip. The inclusion of

6. Bonsaver, Guido. “The egocentric Cassandra of the left: Representations of politics in the films of Nanni Moretti.”

18


real documentary footage

innermost thoughts.

what occurs in the tape.

last treatment denotes a

clarifies the nature of the

shot of the film, which

that depicts Moretti’s

sharp change from the

past two chapters, where

no documentary clips are

inserted. Additionally, we witness a definite change in the function of the

character’s voiceover. In the previous chapters,

“Moretti” voices his inner

In Medici, Moretti

voiceover by unequivocally addressing the use of

documentary footage.

As the documentary clip

plays, Moretti’s voiceover states “this is my last

chemotherapy session,

and I have decided to film it.” The voiceover is no

longer the articulation of the words written in the

diary, rather, it explicitly

addresses the inclusion of the documentary footage.

Clarifying the nature of the external footage denotes

that the character is indeed addressing the viewer; if the character of Moretti were simply addressing himself, there would thoughts and anxieties,

be no need to elucidate

Additionally, the final

depicts Moretti breaking

the fourth wall and staring directly at the camera as

he drinks a cup of water, confirms once again

that he is intentionally

addressing the viewer. The use of external footage,

as well as direct address to the viewer, sets this

final chapter apart from the previous two, and

reinforces the fabricated nature of Dear Diary.

While the director

decides to narrate the true story of his journey and

discovery of Hodgkin’s in Medici, the stylistic and

narrative choices do not resemble documentary

storytelling, nor do they

yet it is unclear whether

the character is addressing the viewer with the

voiceover. Audiences are left wondering whether

they are being intentionally included in the character’s monologue, or whether they are furtively

eavesdropping on Moretti’s

19


establish a sense of realism.

while simultaneously

notes that the director

for formal techniques that

constructed nature of the

the chapter. We initially

Paradoxically, Moretti opts draw viewers’ attention to the fabricated nature of

the film in the last chapter more than in the previous two. As previously stated, this chapter begins with

the character in an empty

café, as he begins to write about his medical journey in his diary. The function

of the following clip from his last chemo session

is twofold: it seemingly

grounds the film in reality,

drawing attention to the film. As Moretti himself claims in an interview,

both Dear Diary and later Aprile “describe what

really happened to me, but they’re both still films that

reflect choices in directing, acting, writing, tone, and style.”7 Another element of Medici that, similarly

to the documentary clip, underlines the fictitious

nature of the film, is the use of the real doctors’

7. Young, Deborah. “The Son’s Room.” Film Comment 37, no. 3 (May, 2001): 14-15

sporadically includes in see the prescriptions in

the café, where Moretti

is reminiscing about his

past struggle with doctors. After the documentary

clip, the film delves into a

flashback that occupies the bulk of this chapter, and

we witness Moretti bounce from doctor to doctor in an attempt to identify

the root of his constant

itch. After every medical inspection, each doctor

Bibliog

Bonsaver, Guido. “The egocentric Cassandra of the left: Representations of

183 DOI:10.1179/

Bonsaver, Guido. “Three Colours Italian.” Sigh “Caro Diario/Dear Diary.” Sight and

“Ciclo Caro Nanni: Nanni Moretti parla di ‘Caro Diario’”

Courrier, Kevin. “TORONTO REVIEWS: APRILE 1/2.” Boxof

Small, Pauline. “The Cinema of Nanni Moretti: Dreams an

Marcus, Millicent. “”Caro Diario” and the Cinematic Body

Young, Deborah. “The Son’s Room.” Film

Young, Deborah. “Reviews: CARO DIARIO.” Variety (

20


begins to write numerous

physical notes that belong

setting them in a fictional

paper, and as the doctors’

footage taken on his final

abandons the obscure,

medications on a piece of

“voiceovers” list the various prescriptions and their function, a close-up of

physical notes occupies

the frame. As Moretti has mentioned in interviews, the inserted notes are

the real prescriptions the director collected in his

struggle with doctors and improper diagnoses,8 and they suggest a “counter-

diary.”9 By employing the

to the director, as well as day of chemotherapy,

the filmunderlines the

truthful and honest nature of the story in Medici, yet also facilitates a heavily cinematic and fictional

representation of these events.

In Dear Diary,

Moretti experiments with fiction storytelling by

seizing intimate fragments of his private life and

framework. Moretti

dreamlike and highly

intellectual filmmaking

approach of his first six

features, yet characteristics of his conventional

authorial style, such as his surreal comedic tone and

a veiled critique of Italian society, both persist and are adjusted in order to

better suit the diaristic and introspective tone of the film.

8. “ Ciclo Caro Nanni: Nanni Moretti parla di ‘Caro Diario’” (link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fF6rJ6vh3HI) 9. Marcus, Millicent. “”Caro Diario” and the Cinematic Body of Nanni Moretti.”

graphy

politics in the films of Nanni Moretti.” The Italianist 211, no.1 (2001): 158-

/ita.2001.21.1.158

ht and Sound 12, no. 1 (01, 2002): 28-28,30,3. Sound 4, no. 12 (Dec 01, 1994): 42.

(link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fF6rJ6vh3HI)

ffice (Archive: 1920-2000) 134, no. 11 (Nov 01, 1998): 148.

nd Diaries.” Film Criticism 30, no. 2 (05, 2006): 72-75,84.

y of Nanni Moretti.” Italica 73, no. 2 (Summer, 1996): 233.

m Comment 37, no. 3 (May, 2001): 14-15

(Archive: 1905-2000) 353, no. 5 (Dec 06, 1993): 39.

21


IT’S BEEN OVER A DECADE SINCE SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE SWEPT THE OSCARS. WHAT’S CHANGED? Sarah Lucente


It is not

revolutionary to say that Slumdog Millionaire, directed by British

filmmaker Danny Boyle, is a white-washed and extremely reductive

portrayal of India, but let’s start there. The film is

structured around Jamal (Dev Patel)’s journey

through the questions of

gameshow Who Wants to

the film explicitly state its

timelines between his

a multiple choice question

Be a Millionaire, switching time on the game show,

when he was interrogated for supposedly cheating, and his traumatic

childhood. These childhood experiences arm Jamal

with the correct answers to the show’s questions.

The opening and closing of

message. In the opening,

is superimposed onto the

screen: How did Jamal win twenty million rupees?

There are four choices,

but at the end of the film, after Jamal reunites with

his lifelong love Latika, the text of the fourth choice,

“D: It is written,” appears again, confirming that it

was Jamal’s destiny to beat the game show and to end up with Latika. And yet,

what does this depiction of a clear-cut, destined

path say about India? That its people are bombarded with cruel and unusual

hardships from day one,

and that these hardships

have positive results, but

only years and years later? That there is no joy to

be found except through

working for an American company, or by winning

money through a British

Television show? Or that

one can only win said show if one is destined, rather than as a result of one’s intelligence, or even of one’s life experience?

23


I am not the first

person to bring up

these questions; in fact,

many writers have already, including many writers of color, such as Wesleyan

professor Hirsh Sawney.

While researching for this

piece, I looked for opinions on Slumdog from Indian writers, and they were

hard to find. Even today, Google is awash with

for 10 Academy Awards, and swept with 8 wins,

including Best Picture. I

opinion pieces by Indian

writers do exist, however, and I encourage you to

read more for yourself; here’s one from The

Seoul Times by Gautaman

This is my main one:

the depiction of abuse of innocent people in

Slumdog, particularly

children, is extreme;

it’s not every day that

like Jamal witnessing his the hands of religious

extremists, and naturally, viewers feel empathy

with that child. Not only do I think that some

viewers want that kind of emotional

catharsis, but that

white Americans,

Bhaskaran and another

myself included, often pat

Mukul Kesavan.

empathizing with someone

from The Telegraph India by

When scrutinizing

the messaging of the film, it seems impossible to

imagine the magnitude of its US popularity at the time of its release. It made a whopping

$378.1 million at the US

to watch Slumdog for

the first time, I asked

the elite institution that

own mother’s murder at

scholarly articles, and

just a few weeks ago

developed a few theories.

so popular, and I have

reviewers, in publications New York Times. Reviews,

Before I sat down

my friends-- fellow liberal,

you think about a child

from rogerebert.com to The

still wonder why it was

mostly positive reviews

from overwhelmingly white

24

box office, was nominated

ourselves on the back for

of a different culture. We

tell ourselves that we are caring people, that we

have opened our eyes to the struggles of the less

fortunate. That was over ten years ago. What has changed?

mostly white students at is Wesleyan University--

what they thought about

the film. All of them said

something to the tune of: “I loved it when it came out, but I was [10/12/14/16], so take that love with a grain of salt.” Halfway

through the film, I paused and stopped to chat with one of those friends. She asked how I liked the

movie, and I told her how I had already written it

off as a crude rendering

of emotional truth. I cited

the scene in the film where Jamal witnesses a criminal cutting out another child’s eyes, and how you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be saddened and

disgusted by that image. She said, “Sure, but it’s a fun

movie.” I asked

right back, “is it?” and cited more disturbing

moments, like the death of


Jamal’s mother, the adult-

of praising films that depict

variation of the white

and the moment when

film in uber-simplistic

Book, Tony rescues Don

Jamal torture sequences, Jamal wades through

a sea of feces to get an

autograph, only for it to be stolen and sold away by his own brother. My

friends understood my reaction, and many

even changed their

opinions about the film.

They cited how they used to associate the film with

the beautiful faces of Dev

Patel and Frieda Pinto and

the ending credit sequence, the epic Bollywoodinspired dance to

the Academy-award

winning song, “Jai Ho.”

But has America

grown up with my

housemates, or do we still, as a culture, love Slumdog and ideologically similar

films? When one considers

the sweeping international success and Best Picture win of Parasite, the

exceptionally-made and startlingly incisive class critique written and

non-Western cultures on

ways. However, the year before Parasite, Best

Picture went to Green Book, a first-lauded and then

criticized white savior film

based on a true story, about the supposed friendship

between African-American pianist Don Shirley, and

his Italian-American driver

Tony, in the sixties. Besides its cavalier attitude

regarding racism (spoiler:

Shirley from racism and

homophobia on multiple occasions, and Slumdog contends that destiny

(and colonization, and

later, globalization) alone can save the destitute people of India.

I am not insinuating

that no progress has been made since

Slumdog Millionaire

was released. In the last

it existed in 1960, but it

three years, there has

according to the film),

and diversification of

ended with this friendship, it came under fire after

it was revealed that the

mostly white production team, including writer-

director Peter Farrelly, did

not adequately discuss the film, written literally from driver Tony’s perspective, with Shirley’s family.

Though the films deal with vastly different histories of oppression with a

slew of complicating

cultural factors, I posit

directed by South Korea’s

that both films deal in

to think we’ve evolved out

cultural erasure, and a

own Bong Joon-ho, it’s easy

savior narrative. In Green

copious oversimplification,

been a rapid expansion the Academy; 2,000

members were added in

the last four years alone, which should, in theory, lead to the celebration

of a wider range of more complex films. I only

propose that such rapid “strides,” compounded

by the continued failures of the Academy’s recent history (remember #OscarsSoWhite ?), may reveal

that this cultural

moment deals more in

performative activism than

25


it does in structural change.

ourselves for Parasite’s

The Slumdog phenomenon

extremely important that

on racism and structural

understand the issues

At the end of the day, it is Americans and people all over the world see

Parasite. Hopefully, with

each viewing, more people

hear of Bong Joon-ho, more people celebrate the South Korean cast and crew, and more people try to grasp

the film’s messaging about

the state of the world today. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t

be too quick to congratulate

26

win. This 2020 reckoning inequality in America, in

addition to its demand of long-overdue attention

paid to the daily violence against Black Americans,

has taught us something. It has taught us that the

time for the performative activism seen in Slumdog (2008 Americans care

about economic inequality in India, right?), is over.

represents our desire to

that face people who look different than we do. But maybe, before making

another film about this desire to empathize,

we should take a step

back and listen to what

various communities have to say about their own experiences.


DECONSTRUCTING TARKOVSKY THROUGH DORSKY: CINEMA, VISION, AND LIGHT IN ANDREI RUBLEV

written by Anna Dzhitenov illustrated by Jessica Luu

Let me first begin

with a story: when I

initially saw Tarkovsky’s landmark epic Andrei

Rublev years ago, I cried.

I, an apathetically agnostic

and pretty cynical teenager, left the cinema (remember going to movie theaters, guys?) with real, actual, human tears in my eyes

from viewing this three-

hour long, black-and-white, religious biopic. Set in

the 15th century, the film

vaguely follows the life of

Andrei Rublev, who was an icon painter in medieval

Russia, over the course of

a prologue, 8 episodes,

and persecution of artists.

scenes are united only by

may make all of that

and an epilogue. These

a tangential relationship to each other, with most, but

not every section featuring the titular Rublev, the

creation of art or artistic craft of some sort, and/ or the direct discussion

of religion. Nonetheless, Rublev’s dedication to

honestly investigating and pursuing the complicated relationship between

art and religion is made

overwhelmingly clear, even as he struggles with his

belief and the censorship

As dense as my description sound, my tears were,

thankfully, not of relief

or boredom, even if the

program curator himself

had joked that he hoped

we had enough snacks to

last us the entire length of

the oh-so grueling runtime. This would be a pretty

rotten essay if that were the case. My emotional

response, however, was

still very difficult to explain at first.

Sitting there,

comfortably enveloped

27


in the darkness of the

power contained within

PowerPoint by about 20

the soft light of the screen,

transfixed, and yes, I cried.

surrounding cinema and I had gazed upwards at

the film’s closing montage. Here, after more than 3 hours of painstakingly following the events

surrounding Rublev’s

life and his complicated

dedication to his art, the film takes a small non-

narrative side step in its

epilogue. A soft choir picks

up as blocks of color unfold on the screen, replacing

the preceding black-and-

white images. They are at

first wholly indecipherable, simple washes of vibrant

red and gold, but soon the musical harmony deepens and the visuals weave together and build in

turn, revealing churches, ordinary people, holy

figures, all Rublev’s actual work from all of those

centuries ago. These are

the very frescoes that he

had dedicated his life to,

and the obvious weathering on them only underscored, for me, something ancient and - for lack of a better, less obvious word - holy

28

them. I was absolutely Pretty shamelessly.

Even lavished in

this grand description, however, these closing

images are fundamentally quite simple and nearly

emotionless. They present no obvious emotional

catharsis, no development or tragedy beyond a

certain poignancy. I didn’t even have any personal

connection to the images

in question or the narrative as a whole, and in general I’m simply not the type to

cry often at the movies. In terms of technique, too,

there is no grand cinematic edit, camera direction, or compositional invention

that makes it all happen;

how could there be, after all, in shooting a pre-

determined, 2-D piece

of visual art? I’m almost tempted to say that the

only distinguishing aspect of this plain 8-minute

montage, with image after image simply layered over image after image, is that

it predates the creation of

years or so.

Naturally, I felt a

tiny bit embarrassed, and as I sat in the flickering, half-emptying subway on my way home, I


sought an explanation

ending. I could concede

that image. On a broad

impassioned, and

beauty to that dramatic

categorized by the medium

for my uncharacteristic, overwhelmingly delicate

response to what seemed, objectively speaking, to

be a pretty unremarkable

that there was a certain reveal of Rublev’s

work, especially after having spent 3 hours

examining his life and the

circumstances surrounding his art, but was it enough

to warrant such tears? Was the profound impact this ending had on me, and

still has to this day, simply attributable to a showy

reveal? Clearly, I had been

touched by something, but I couldn’t quite put the necessary words to it.

Let me now

introduce a text, which I encountered about a

year ago and now hold

in incredibly high regard: Nathaniel Dorsky’s

Devotional Cinema. In

an act of poetry, Dorsky

covers a surprisingly large amount in an even more

scale, art is defined and

it consists of, and cinema

happens to be made from captured and projected

light. What makes light as a medium obviously

unique, furthermore, is its significance to our

(seeing) lives, leading to an interesting set of relationships and conclusions:

“We view films in the context of darkness. We sit in darkness and watch an illuminated world, the world of the screen. This situation is a metaphor for the nature of our own vision. In the very process of seeing, our own skull is like a dark theater, and the world we see in front of us is in a sense a screen. We watch the world from the dark theater of our skull. The darker the room, the more luminous the

surprisingly small amount

screen.” (26)

philosophy, as implied by

of pages. The crux of his

the title, comes down to a

certain devotion; it’s a total

This culminates in: “The reality of being in

the dark theater of our skull,

dedication to cinema, the

observing incandescence.” (31)

the light that comprises

image it is made of, and

Watching films is,

29


after all, the primary way

the most literal, arguably

everyone is willing to

to them, supplicating our

philosophy imaginable,

time to simply staring at

in which we pay tribute

time and attention to them in the darkness of the

theater; this relationship between light and vision is thus fundamental to our understanding of

and devotion to movies.

Dorsky’s own films, which are largely abstract, slow meditations on nature

and still environments, accordingly concern themselves directly

with shaping our vision,

manipulating the camera’s focal length and aperture. The resulting footage is uniquely mesmerizing,

characterized by slowly shifting light leaks and

still landscapes that force the audience to directly

contemplate light itself. It’s

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simplest application of his deconstructing cinema

until it purely becomes bare light projected on

a screen. Dorsky’s films, together with other

experimental works like them, become pure,

abstract demonstrations

of cinematic beauty, and though it is a type of

beauty that I happen to have a soft spot for, I’ll

still be the first to admit that it’s not the most

accessible type of cinema out there. This vein of

experimental film may be

a direct, literal application

of the beauty and devotion Dorsky describes, but it

dedicate so much of their shifting blocks of color and contemplating the nature of cinema. In fact, I’d

hedge a bet that I’m well in the minority on that one.

Truly, beauty for

beauty’s sake is not always enough, which is why

Dorsky finds space within the larger film canon for

narrative works as well, as in:

“The form must include the expression of its

own materiality, and this materiality must be in union with its subject

matter….union of material and subject” (25)

could also be far from the

out there: after all, not

“Film at its transformative best is

most effective approach

that:

While remembering


not primarily a literary medium. The screen or the field of light on the wall must be alive as sculpture, while at the same time expressing the iconography within the frame. Beyond everything else, film is a screen, film is a rectangle of light, film is light sculpture in time. How does a filmmaker sculpt light in harmony with its subject matter? How can light be deeply in union with evocation?” (48, my emphasis added)

This narrative

caveat is precisely what

pushes Andrei Rublev from simply being a beautiful wok to a transcendent

one. The relief I alluded to above, about finally seeing Rublev’s work

after spending 3 hours contemplating his life

as an artist, was a direct response to the film’s

ability to evoke its own material. Perhaps the

connection is a bit too obvious - of course a

visual biography about

an artist’s work is going

to be ‘in harmony with its subject matter’ - but the

fact of the matter stands that Andrei Rublev is

overwhelmingly successful precisely because of this

union between pure, light-

based beauty and narrative evocation.

Essentially,

Tarkovsky’s skill here

comes from his ability to unite the beauty of light with a narrative

that coaxes the audience to fully understand that beauty, both before and

during the magnanimous

final sequence. Due to the film’s segmented, vaguely non-narrative vignette

structure, the significance of the plot rests more on overarching themes and motifs than on minute, sequenced details. The main throughlines of

Andrei Rublev have to

do, accordingly, with the

endurance of art and the difficulties of creating it, from episodes depicting

Rublev’s relationship to his painting amidst increasing political turmoil to the

incredible final scene, in

which a group of men toil to cast a brass church bell with great uncertainty as to whether their efforts

will be successful, whether the bell will ultimately

hold its shape and ring

like it is supposed to. It is

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a scene laden with great

subject matter that Dorsky

it’s about taking vision,

capturing the leap of faith

senses, and stripping it

feeling and metaphor,

and immense dedication

that is required to produce any physical item of

craftsmanship, as well as the overwhelming

satisfaction that comes

when the bell does, in fact, prove successful with a resounding ring.

Then, though the

film is far from a Dorsky-

like abstract work, it is also crafted with a care and

attention to its image that highlights the significance of light and shadow, a

quality heightened by its black-and-white nature. Planted in a narrative

context wholly concerned with the creation of

art, this artistic nature

thus pushes the film to

become, in an incredibly

self-referential manner, a beautiful meditation on beauty, an artwork that

investigates and describes its own nature. The non-

narrative elements of the film are bolstered by the

narrative ones, presenting

that very union of light and

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writes about.

After several hours

of priming the viewer and pushing them to think

about the film in this way, the break into the end

montage can finally lead

the audience to consider, most directly, this light-

based beauty of cinema.

Now that we understand,

to at least some extent, the intricacies of art and its

creation, the first jubilant tolls of the church bell

still ringing in our ears, we can fully appreciate

these closing images. We are moved into Dorsky’s state of restorative

devotion, compelled to

gaze directly at the very light that constitutes

cinema (remember that the first few shots here

are borderline abstract, simple blocks of red

and yellow that are only revealed to be actual

images later: the audience is simply perceiving light, not recognizable shapes). And this exact state is precisely what makes

cinema so captivating:

one of our most essential even further towards its essence, until it reaches

a kind of primitive state. It’s about making us not

simply look, but actively,

ardently look toward the light again in an almost

primordial way, and it is this type of looking that

is the most profound, the

most cinematic - at least, in

Dorsky’s sense of the word. That is what Tarkovsky

achieves, and that is what I couldn’t quite put my

finger on all of those years ago: the film manipulates its own medium towards

the light. And in that act,

it venerates the nature of

cinema, the nature of our vision, and the ineffable, beautiful phenomenon

that occurs in the light that bounces between the two.


THE (UN)PREDICTABILITY OF

THE UNDOING Phoebe Vlahoplus

Warning: This article

Korelitz. Kidman and Grant

show had great potential

Undoing

Fraser, a high powered

discussions surrounding

contains spoilers for The

“Are you actually

accusing our son of

committing this crIYme”, Nicole Kidman whispers

forcefully to Hugh Grant,

her voice careening away

from her character’s proper New York lilt to Kidman’s

seemingly favorite “Upper East Side of Australia”

play Grace and Jonathan and wealthy Manhattan couple, her a clinical

psychologist and him a top rated oncologist, whose lives are turned upside

down when a fellow parent at their child’s Upper East

Side private school is found dead and Jonathan is

accused of her murder.

At first an

accent. The dramatic

interesting foray into the

beginning of the much

Side elite, the show quickly

moment comes at the

anticipated series finale

of The Undoing, an HBO miniseries loosely based

upon the novel You Should

Have Known, by Jean Hanff

lives of the Upper East

diverges into what can only be described as a mediocre mashup of Gossip Girl,

Law and Order SVU and

Big Little Lies. While the

to engage with timely

race, class and our justice

system, showrunner David E. Kelley chose to barely

scratch the surface of the myriad power dynamics

at play. Instead, the show

focuses most intensely on the “did he or didn’t he” storyline, attempting to

maneuver the viewer into accusing everyone but

Jonathan of the crime, only to ultimately reveal that he, the cheating doctor

who showed no remorse

for the accidental part he

played in the death of his sister, and who literally accused his own son of

33


bludgeoning the victim

shred of evidence.

at the revelation of

her! And is also a raving

interestingly, I was

final episode, despite the

to death, in fact, did kill lunatic, go figure!

The show’s

fundamental flaw -- but

However,

seemingly in the minority of people who found it

Jonathan’s guilt in the

fact that all evidence had pointed to him and only

also seemingly the key

to its premise -- rests in its inability to give us

an alternative suspect

to Jonathan. No, Nicole

Kidman randomly walking

past the scene of the crime is not enough evidence,

no, the grandfather being mysterious is not enough evidence and no, strange and unexplained glances made by Grace’s friend

Sylvia to various characters throughout the show is

also not enough evidence. In the end, in order to

justify the idea that any

of these others characters

could possibly be counter-

suspects, the viewer is left to conjure up elaborate

plotlines practically from

thin-air, from Sylvia having an affair with Jonathan, to Grace’s father hating

to be impossible for the

him being the murderer

that he would hatch an

other than Jonathan.

disconnect between

Jonathan to such a degree elaborate murder plan

without leaving a single

34

suspect to be anyone Both friends and the

Twitterverse were shocked

all along. This profound viewers of the same show, something I am guessing


Kelley did not intend to

that Jonathan just couldn’t

ubiquitous. These shows

important point regarding

would just be bad writing.

that there will always be

provoke, brings up an

the relationship between

writers and watchers - Is it

have done it because that

Viewers have

increasingly demanding

instill in viewers the idea a shocking and cunning twist in the end. Many

therefore believed that

taking viewers on a six-

episode arc only to come

back to square one would therefore just be too

tedious and unimaginative for a network which gave

us the likes of Watchmen or Westworld. However, The Undoing, by forgoing the

expected, last-minute twist, subverts this conception at the end of its six-episode arc.

Another take on

this show is that the

psychological “undoing” is not actually that of Nicole

Kidman’s character, as one might expect. Instead, it

is the attempted undoing

of the viewers themselves as they try to rationalize Jonathan’s continued

oddities as anything but the really enough for writers

expectations of shows such

will think of them as more

because complicated

simply to hope that viewers cunning than they really

are? Many people thought

as The Undoing precisely

crime shows and murder

mysteries have become so

markings of a murderer.

In many ways, the focus

of this show could be seen as society’s fixation with

wealthy, attractive white

men and our need to bend

35


over backwards to see the

even at the expense of

popped up frequently

good in these individuals,

reason and common sense. Jonathan could never

have done it because the idealization of men like

him in our society prevents the viewer from jumping to what are clearly the

most logical conclusions. But again, this argument elevates Kelley’s smarts

to possibly too high of a

place, given some of the

larger plot and character oddities throughout the show.

36

Bad writing,

directing and acting

throughout The Undoing. One of my favorite

examples is Kelley’s

decision to have Grace

take a walk near the crime scene, only to realize that the show had not in any

way set up this habit for her character in prior

episodes. Consequently,

Nicole Kidman went on a solo walk in nearly every subsequent episode, her expensive long coats

billowing in the New York

City winds. Another would be the complete disregard of three-dimensionality of characters, most

excruciatingly that of

Grace’s father. Played

impressively by Donald Sutherland, Franklin, was the only possible

character who I could have seen as a suspect other than Jonathan. As the

exorbitantly wealthy father with a distrust of, and one could almost say hatred for Jonathan, I could

hypothetically see both how and why he would want


to force Grace to sever

thoughts. And lastly, there

are looking for a show

However, Franklin’s main

of the fact that Grace’s

in and unaware of its own

ties with her husband.

character trait being merely

“mysterious billionaire with an intermediate level of

piano knowledge” made it slightly more challenging to seriously consider him the mastermind behind

the murder. Another was the seeming inability

of the writers to write legal dialogue, with

characters getting on the

stand and practically just monologuing their inner

was the complete disregard child Henry was not even

in high school, and yet was allowed to watch all news broadcasts on his fathers murder trial and even sit in on said trial, in which

gruesome and disturbing details about both his

father and the murder itself were shared.

which is both unabashed level of absurdity, The

Undoing gives you a solid

amount of content to work

with, whether you give the show’s creators too much, too little, or just enough

credit for crafting a story

so straightforward that it’s almost unpredictable.

If you watch the

show, don’t do it for the

scintillating drama or top notch accents. But if you

37


“THE NEXT RI DEPICTIONS OF M IN FROZ

When I say

I’m interested in

representations of mental health and illness in film and television, people always ask me what I

think of Oscar contenders like Good Will Hunting or A Beautiful Mind. While

there is undeniable value

in the way these films and others like them feature

and portray mental illness, I take a particular interest in movies and shows

that aren’t necessarily

about mental illness, but rather weave anxiety

or depression into the

development of one or

more characters and their plots or subplots. Even

more specifically, movies and shows that aren’t

necessarily considered

sophisticated or serious that feature characters

38

written by Elizabeth Irvin |

with mental illness really

note here that I am not a

the general public, as

anything close—I form my

appeal to me—and to

evidenced by box office

receipts. Some examples

include portrayals of social anxiety in Bo Burnham’s

Eighth Grade, the depiction of therapy in the recent

Netflix show Never Have I Ever, and Tony Stark’s post-traumatic stress in

Iron Man 3. I could write pages on each of these

mental health expert or

opinions about depictions of mental health in the

media primarily in relation to what I’ve learned about psychology in classes, my years in therapy, and my own experiences living

with Generalized Anxiety

Disorder, Depression, and ADHD.

For those of you

examples and many others

who aren’t plugged into the

review of the way OCD is

Frozen II, which came out

(I’ll spare you my scathing portrayed in Glee), but I

want to focus here on what I consider to be the best

example I’ve ever seen of a movie or TV show that

subtly integrates messages

of mental health and illness into its story and character development: Frozen II.

It’s important to

8-and-under movie scene,

last year, is the blockbuster sequel to the story of royal sisters Anna and Elsa. At the time of its release,

Frozen II broke box office records and became the

highest grossing animated

film of all time (it has since been surpassed only by

the 2019 remake of The


GHT THING:” MENTAL ILLNESS

ZEN II

| illustrated by Jessica Luu Lion King). With lifetime

character profoundly grow

issues of her anxiety and

billion, Frozen II is the 10th

remains her awkward self

which seem to deepen as

ticket sales of over $1.4

highest grossing film of all

time. Given that enormous audience, the themes and characters in this movie have the potential to

have a significant impact on audiences of all ages,

and are therefore worth a deeper dive.

The original Frozen

sets up Anna as the

and change. While Anna from the first film (we

see a recall of her “wait, what?” catchphrase),

we now see how those

traits fit into the larger

overprotectiveness, both of she grows from the young girl and teenager of the

first movie into a young adult in the second.

The opening song of

the second film—“Some Things Never Change,” which focuses on the

comforting consistency of family, friends, the

“adorkable” and naïve younger sister, and

while her character certainly evolves,

mostly in regard to

her taste in men, her

older sister Elsa is the one who undergoes the film’s central

personal journey and character growth. It

isn’t until the sequel that we see Anna’s

39


seasons, etc.—ends with

mysterious voices calling

her family (her sister Elsa,

stability and her family are

Anna hanging back behind her boyfriend Kristoff, his reindeer sidekick

her, both Anna’s sense of threatened, and

Sven, and crowd-

highlighted when Elsa

dives into a forest fire to

learn more about

the spirit calling her, and Anna

follows to try

favorite Olaf the

to save her. Once they

both emerge

snowman)

alive (Anna

and singing

is rescued

“I’m holdin’

by Kristoff

on tight to

and Elsa

you.” This

uses her

song,

and its

final line

in particular,

sets up the central

powers), Elsa says

features of Anna’s

to her sister, “What were

stability, cares deeply

been killed. You can’t just

character: she craves

about her family, and

wants things to stay the

throughout the

way they are; she fears

story, we see her constantly

assume that this craving

There is a clear clash

change. It seems fair to for stability stems from

her abandonment issues;

she was forced apart from her sister for her entire childhood and lost her

parents at a young age, in true Disney fashion.

Once the plot picks up

and Elsa starts hearing

40

you doing? You could have

working to protect both. between Elsa’s need to

follow the voices in order

to find the truth about her past, no matter the cost, and Anna’s compulsive

desire for her loved ones— primarily Elsa—to stay

safe and alongside her.

This central clash is best

follow me into fire,” to

which Anna replies, “You don’t want me following you into fire, then don’t run into fire.”

This scene, along with

many others in the film,

effectively illustrates what

anxiety feels like and looks like, and how it can cause conflicts with others. This

is an incredibly important representation for young children who may never


have seen this side of

to shape our society’s

half of Frozen II, which

screen before. Anna shows

understanding of mental

In the Disney+ original

themselves reflected onanxiety-ridden and riskaverse kids who sit out

adventurous activities that they’re not alone. I was

conversations about and

illness, and it can hopefully contribute to decreasing

the stigma surrounding it. Another aspect

that kid—too anxious to

of Anna’s positive and

go rock climbing, full of

of mental illness is the

swim in the ocean or to

extreme worry when my

family and friends would do these kinds of things. Without any positive

representations of anxiety in the shows and movies I watched as a child, I was

convinced that something

was wrong with me. Now, Anna shows audiences— including countless

millions of anxious kids— that anxiety is normal

and is something many

people experience, even

princesses. Furthermore, our anxieties don’t have to stand in the way of

our success; we can all

(metaphorically) save the

kingdom not in spite of our worries, but because they

drive us towards our goals, protect us, and make us

who we are. This message has incredible potential

effective representation palpable earnestness

and authenticity in her

character, which I believe stem from the personal understanding of these

topics behind-the-scenes. In many scenes, the tone

of voice, expressions, and emotions that convey Anna’s anxiety were

initiated—and of course,

brought to life—by Kristen Bell, the actress who

voices Anna. For many years, Bell has spoken

publicly about her own

anxiety and depression,

and how she brought those aspects of herself to her

portrayal of Anna. A little research reveals that the co-director of the movie also has had personal experiences that add

resonance and authenticity to the emotional second

deals explicitly with loss. series Into the Unknown: Making Frozen II, co-

director Chris Buck opens up about the recent loss

of his teenage son in a car accident, and how that

tragedy heavily influenced Anna’s story line. Late in the film (spoiler alert!),

Anna is led to believe that two of her closest loved

ones are dead, and as she considers how to go on, she sings the song “The

Next Right Thing.” This

song chronicles grief and

deep depression in a truly beautiful way. The title

and recurring mantra of

the song refer to a point earlier in the film when

the kingdom first seemed

at risk; the wise old Pabbie Troll tells Anna, “when one can see no future,

all one can do is the next

right thing.” Upon Anna’s immense loss, she recalls

this advice, and uses it to

pull herself up and out of devastation, to act. The lyrics follow:

41


This grief has a gravity, it

impact on my own life.

experience mental illness

But a tiny voice whispers in

bout of depression, and the

in a time fraught with

pulls me down my mind

You are lost, hope is gone But you must go on

And do the next right thing Within this poignant song

lies an important message:

when we feel overwhelmed

by sadness, fear, and worry, and it seems like nothing

can be done, all we can do is the one next right thing, even if that’s just standing up.

This song has had

an incredibly positive

Last year, I experienced a thought of getting better

felt like an overwhelming concept that I couldn’t grasp. The words and

melody of “just do the

next right thing” suddenly

popped into my head, after having seen Frozen II a few weeks before. Thinking

about recovery as a series

of decisions to do the next

right thing, no matter how small, then the next, then

or not, we are all living

tragedy and loss, as well

as uncertainty, confusion,

and fear about the future. While it may seem trivial or silly, I encourage

you to take those often-

overwhelming feelings and listen to Anna’s words:

“Break it down to this next breath, this next step, this next choice” and “do the next right thing.”

the next, played a huge

role in my healing process. Whether you personally

References

Buck, Chris and Jennifer Lee, directors. Frozen II. 22 Nov. 2019.

Desta, Yohana. “The Lion King Is Now Disney’s Highest-Grossing Animated Movie Ever.” Vanity Fair, 12 Aug. 2019, www. vanityfair.com/hollywood/2019/08/the-lion-king-box-office-animation-record. Harding, Megan, director. Into the Unknown: Making Frozen II, 26 June 2020.

“Top Lifetime Grosses.” Box Office Mojo, 19 Dec. 2020, www.boxofficemojo.com/chart/top_lifetime_gross/?area=XWW.

42


IT’S ALL FUN AND GAMES, UNTIL...: THE STRUGGLE FOR POWER IN BIG BROTHER AND

SUCCESSION

On August 5th,

2020, CBS’ Big Brother premiered their 22nd

season, Big Brother All

Stars. After a dearth of

new television content, due to the ubiquitous

film constraints put upon by COVID, I was highly anticipating this new

season of Big Brother. The show has faced many criticisms,

Nika Litt

there were several

the All Stars season. For

the 21st season, with

significantly older than

incidents of bullying in houseguests in a majorityalliance excluding those not in this alliance and

making racist comments towards houseguests of

color. Fears that a repeat

of this would happen were

naively assuaged when the casting was announced for

the most part, the cast was the average houseguest in a non-All Star season and most everyone was in a

relationship or married,

preventing showmances from forming and

allowing players to be

self-interested. The “All-

Star” moniker should have

largely due to their casting

having a lack

of diversity and

focusing more on recruiting social

media influencers, who are more interested in

using the show for exposure

than actually

playing the game of Big Brother. Furthermore,

43


meant that they were all

a season with immense

almost 10 years and

Big Brother.

deemed one of the most

which naturally became

ready to play the game of

What ultimately

happened, however,

was that a seven-person

majority-alliance (mostly composed of people

who had pre-gamed and had well-established

relationships) was formed at the onset, dominated

the entire front portion of

the game, and managed to plow their way to the Top

Seven. Along the way, they consistently took out every single person I (and the

majority of America) were rooting for, including fan

favorites Janelle Pierzina and Kaysar Ridha, who

had last played together over fifteen years ago.

While not to the degree of the previous season,

microaggressive behaviors led to minorities in the house being relegated to minority alliances,

with little to no hope of infiltrating the power structure. With the

majority of the alliance

being unlikable, to boot, what initially started as

44

potential was quickly

boring and unpleasant

seasons the show has ever produced.

And yet, I spent

a large amount of my

summer foolishly watching over 400 episodes of Big

Brother in preparation for the All-Stars season. A

feature of this show is that

it happens live, as opposed to other reality shows

where seasons are pre-

recorded. If you subscribe

to CBS All Access, you can see live feeds and pretty much watch the game

unfold 24/7 on your own time. So once the season

premiered, I invested more

hours in a day than I would like to admit watching live feeds and episodes as they

aired. Why did I put myself through this?

Well, to preface

this, I am a voracious

fan of Survivor, another

one of CBS’ reality game shows that is even more

venerated than Big Brother. I have been watching

Survivor religiously for

have seen every season,

a gateway to Big Brother. Big Brother and Survivor are reality game shows

wherein several people

enter a house (in the case

of Big Brother) or an island (in the case of Survivor)

and their primary goal is to survive. In Survivor, castaways go to Tribal

Council every so often

and must vote out one

member of their tribe until there is a final group of

3.Then a jury of previously voted-out castaways vote to crown the winner of Survivor and a million

dollar prize. In the case of Big Brother, every week there is a competition

that determines the Head of Household, who is

responsible for nominating two other houseguests

vulnerable for elimination. At the end of the week,

the house votes out one of the two houseguests.

Similar to Survivor, a jury

is formed midway through the game and determines

who wins at the end. Both


are games of strategy,

to walk the fine line

same city, the chances of

competition prowess.

connections and also

majority alliance is pretty

social proficiency, and

Big Brother and

Survivor came out in 2000

and augured a notable shift

in reality television towards reality based strategy games and cemented

reality TV as a viable genre (Kavka). Apart from the strategy-based elements

of the games, what drew me to these shows is the

way in which contestants

from all different walks of life have to find ways of coexisting and, in some

cases, depend upon each other for survival, and

yet, the ultimate goal is

to eliminate every single person that surrounds you. Contestants have

between making genuine knowing they may have to cut them at any moment. In their purest form, Big

Brother and Survivor show us how normal people can maneuver extraordinary social circumstances.

Ultimately though, they

are social games that reify many of the problematic

social constructs on which our society is based, and when you change the

formula ever so slightly,

you have the potential to give great advantages to certain groups of people over others. When you

consistently cast 80-90% white people, or even

people who come from the

an all-white, dominating high.

At the same time as

my Big Brother binge this

summer I began to watch HBO’s Succession, and

noticed parallels between the two shows that do

not seem evident on the

surface. Succession centers on Logan Roy, the owner

of an international media conglomerate Waystar

Royco, and his children, as they vie for a seat at

the head of the company

once Logan retires. A satire on the way media moguls and the rich elite play

by their own rulebook, Succession brilliantly

toes the line between

45


admonishing these figures

possess a game-like quality.

At the start, Shiv is not

true pathos. Both shows

Big Brother as it is quite

Waystar Royco company.

and imbuing them with problematize the way

power is disseminated and maintained by

clearly setting the stakes at the very beginning: in Succession it’s the

top position at Waystar

Royco, and in Big Brother it is the $500,000 prize. These monetary end

goals incentivize doing “whatever it takes’’

to either infiltrate an

existing power structure or to remain in power.

Ultimately both shows

46

While this is apparent in

literally a game, this is a bit more subtle in Succession. Emily Nussbaum of the

New Yorker agrees that “[Succession’s] most

striking motif is games.

For the Roys, business is a game. So is therapy, so is sex.”

One of the Roy

children, Shiv, reminds me of many archetypes on Big Brother and Survivor of

someone who is extremely smart and eager, but

plays too hard too fast.

yet integrated into the

She works as a political consultant, and has put on a public persona of

being much more liberal

than her family. In doing so, she is able to secure a position as Chief of

Staff for the presidential campaign of a man who

stands against everything

her father does. However,

when she is presented with the opportunity to jump

ship and join the Waystar Royco family, she is then

in the precarious position


of potentially having

are the points at which

voyeurism is a constitutive

too often, we see this trope

fraught, the social order

radical frameworks. In

overplayed her hand. All

in Big Brother or Survivor, where players get caught with their fingers in too many pies. If executed

well, it could lead to the

check at the end, but if not,

it could lead to an untimely elimination.

But like with every

good game, whether a

game of chess or football,

constant power shifts and

unpredictability make them interesting. The moments

in Succession that are most engaging are when the

audience has no clue who

will gain power. Likewise,

in Big Brother and Survivor, I love when the power

shifts or when someone

who is not expected to go

home is blindsided. These moments of uncertainty

relationships are the most is compromised, and

anything can happen.

But unlike in a

typical game of chess, there are real-world

consequences on Big

Brother and Succession.

People’s livelihoods are

at stake and at risk based on the decisions made

by the players involved in each show. While

Succession is fictional,

within the diegesis of the show, any one action can result in the demise of

a character. Similarly, in

Big Brother, every action taken can result in that

player being eliminated. As the audience, we

watch lives hanging by a thread, and yet we

cannot look away. This

element of these shows’ Succession, because we get such intimate and

human portrayals of its

characters, we see fallible

human beings fall victim to the toxic power structure of American corporate

culture -- and it’s a scary

sight to behold! With Big Brother and Survivor, we

watch actual people under a microscope having to

react to myriad situations. While the scenarios are

fabricated, viewing these shows through a game-

like lens paints a clearer

picture on American power dynamics and gives us

valuable information about how human beings use

(or abuse) power for their

personal gain, for better or worse.

Works cited

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2019-09-24/cbs-big-brother-racism-controversy-context https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/09/03/successions-satisfyingly-nasty-family-ties

“Second-Generation Reality TV (1999–2000): Surveillance and Competition in Big Brother and Survivor.” Reality TV,

by Misha Kavka, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2012, pp. 75–109. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j. ctt1g0b5zz.7. Accessed 30 Oct. 2020.

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